The Sussex County Board of Adjustment this week denied the Bethany Beach Police Department’s application for a special-use exception to operate a shooting range for the department on a piece of Town-property in unincorporated Frankford.
The BOA met on March 21 after hearing testimony related to the application on Feb. 29. During that hearing, 34 people in attendance were opposed to the application, with 18 of them speaking.
The 7.02-acre property is zoned AR-1. It is located on the west side of Blackwater Road, about 1,230 feet north of Burbage Road.
Following testimony in February, the board chose to table the matter, to give themselves more time to review the application.
Board Member E. Brent Workman said Monday night that he was not in favor of granting the special-use exception.
“I’m not in favor of it. I think it will affect neighboring properties,” he said. “There are 34 people against it — there’s got to be a reason they’re against it.”
Workman said he was also concerned that the police department had no plans to put up gates or a fence surrounding the range, to keep non-law-enforcement persons from using it.
Board Member Norman Rickard agreed with Workman, stating he didn’t understand where the need came into place.
“I can’t see where a single police department would want their own firing range when they’ve had to qualify for their certificates for years and have used other ranges and haven’t had a problem there. I think it’s something they want; I don’t think it’s something they need.”
He added that he believed residents’ concerns regarding the possible disruption of wildlife were warranted.
“There’s some wildlife there. The first shot that goes off there, I think, is going to be detrimental to that part of the area they have. They say they have some bald eagles there. They are a protected, from what I understand, species. And, certainly, you don’t want to disturb things like that.
“I’ve had some experience in law-enforcement and firing ranges, and I just don’t think this is the place it should be,” Rickard added. “I don’t want to set a precedent where every incorporated town will come and appear before us. They have the right to do that, but I don’t want to give them the idea, ‘Just look for a piece of ground somewhere, come see us and we’ll see what we can do there.’ I don’t want to give that impression.”
Board Member Jeffrey Hudson echoed Workman and Rickard in his opposition.
“The area that the application is applied for is a growing area, and I would certainly have to say that the 34 residents present in opposition at the hearing certainly did present evidence that, in their minds, it will substantially affect adversely the uses of adjacent and neighboring properties in that area. “
Board Chairman Dale Callaway said the greatest concern voiced by the opposition was the noise generated by the range.
“The additional noise from the outdoor shooting range will likely increase noise pollution in a quiet neighborhood and unnecessarily disturb the neighbors.”
Callaway also referenced neighbor Willia Peoples, who owns two Boston terriers and fosters other dogs, as she testified the range would adversely affect when and how she can use her property.
“She specializes in working with rescue animals and dogs, and has fear of issues. The time the applicant intends to use the range coincides with the times when she typically trains those animals. The existence of a shooting range will likely have a substantial, adverse and chilling effect on the operation of her business.”
He also stated the application did not mention how the department would handle the environmental effects of an outdoor shooting range.
“The applicant testified that it would maintain the property but did not present a convincing plan as to how to limit exposure to neighboring and adjacent properties, particularly the waterways from pollution due to emissions from fired rounds at the range.”
John Mills was the only board member who was in favor of granting the special-use exception, but he stated he “can appreciate concerns the opposition had.”
“Personally, I feel that their concerns were speculative. We did have a local Realtor as a professional witness who said it would not have an adverse effect on the properties.
“We did hear there have already been issues in the past with hunting, or at least with shooting. We’re talking about a controlled environment the Bethany police department is asking for, where they have three sides of berms around the area where they intend to shoot, unlike a hunter, who is shooting randomly across a field or open area. I have to disagree with you fellas in regard to that.”
Mills also stated that he thought concerns about the safety of area children were adequately addressed in the application, as the range would only be used during the day, when children were in school.
“Again, I think the opposition — their concern was speculative.”
The board voted, 4-1 to deny the application, with Mills opposed. The vote was met with applause by some of those who were in attendance, along with statements of ‘Thank you, gentlemen,” and “Amen.”
The Bethany Beach Police Department could choose to appeal the board’s decision to the Delaware Superior Court; however, officials from the department could not be reached for comment by the Coastal Point’s Wednesday news deadline.